She did it! The inspirational Nicky Spinks celebrated her 50th birthday by setting a new fastest women’s time (11 hours 02 minutes) for the Joss Naylor Challenge, eclipsing the previous best by over an hour. Ultra runner and cancer survivor Nicky, who last year set a new record time of 45 hours 30 minutes for the 132-mile Double Bob Graham Round, said of her latest feat: “It was an unforgettable day – a fantastic way to spend my 50th birthday.”
The Joss Naylor Challenge covers a distance of around 48-50 miles, traversing 30 summits with a total ascent of around 17,000ft. It starts at Pooley Bridge in the NE Lake District (UK) and finishes at Greendale Bridge, next to Joss’s house. The inaugural run was made by fell running legend Joss in 1990, at the age of 54. In very bad weather he clocked a time of 11 hours 30 minutes.
The challenge is open to runners over 50 to complete inside the times set for their respective age groups. It is done with support from other runners/pacers and money is raised for charity (donate on Nicky’s JustGiving page). The maximum time allowance for men aged 50-54 is 12 hours. The ladies’ time for the same age category is a maximum of 14 hours. The older the age category, the more time is allowed to complete the challenge (more explained here). Joss likes to meet finishers at Greendale Bridge.
Nicky was determined to complete the challenge in under 12 hours and set a schedule which would potentially see her finish in 11 hours 59 minutes. On the day, however, she ran much quicker than that and clocked a remarkable 11 hours 02 minutes, accompanied every step of the way by her five-year-old dog Wisp. The previous fastest time for women was 12 hours 17 minutes, recorded by Jane Meeks in June 2011. The quickest time recorded by a man is 10 hours 20 minutes, set by Stephen Pyke in October 2015.
Nicky said: “The time came as a surprise. Leg 1 (Pooley Bridge to Kirkstone Pass) seemed fast on the schedule but once I got into it and enjoyed a brilliant sunrise, I started to feel that sub 12 hours was possible. I was very strict with what I ate too, and I think that really helped. Even though I didn’t feel like eating, I had my spicy pasta when we met the support team/changed pacers, and I also ate a lot of rice pudding and fruit salad on the run. The day was too hot for dry foods like cereal bars. Eating early – and eating well – really helped me as the day went on.
“I was worried about Leg 3 (Dunmail to Styhead Tarn) as unfortunately one of my pacers had to drop out the night before and I was a little nervous on some of the navigation (especially the bit between High Raise and Angle Tarn). Once I was through that section, I felt a lot happier and I just thought, ‘let’s go for it’. We sped up and when we got to Styhead Tarn, I remember pacers saying to each other, ‘this is fast!’ Great Gable, Kirkfell and Pillar were tough – big, steep rocky climbs. My stomach started to play up as well at this point – thankfully a friend had some black coffee waiting for me on the top of Pillar and this seemed to help a lot.
“Over the final few summits there was talk that I might go sub 11 hours. I just tried to run as fast as I could but to make sure I enjoyed myself all the time too. The pace was of course faster than the Double Bob Graham and so I felt tired a lot earlier into the challenge. I was running a lot more of the climbs, where as on the Double Bob Graham I did more walking. There was definitely, as expected, a big difference in pace.
“Another big difference was almost all of it was done in daylight – except the very start at 5am when I used a head torch for a short period. It was nice to get six hours into this run and think, ‘I’m potentially halfway’ – not like on the Double Bob Graham, when after six hours I was only really getting started. As it turned out, I was done by just after 4pm, which was great because it meant more time to spend in the pub afterwards!
“Joss was there to meet us at the finish – though his wife was cross with him because he nearly missed us. He’d been elsewhere in the Lake District that day watching the Anniversary Waltz Fell Race and just made it back in time for me finishing. It was brilliant to see him there. He’s been a fell running hero of mine for many, many years. So when he gave me a card in which he’d written that I was his hero, I was totally shocked.
“I always secretly wanted to do it in under the men’s 12 hour limit (for 50-54 year olds). I’m not saying all women should aim to go sub-12, not at all, and part of the beauty of the Joss Naylor Challenge is that the time limit gets extended as you get older, but I was really pleased to show (just as Jasmin Paris has done in the world of really fast ladies) that women can compete with the men and run similar times. The big thing though was to enjoy it – and that’s exactly what I did. My support team pulled everything out of the bag and more to create a birthday I’ll never forget. To have my dog Wisp by my side the whole way round was fantastic too. She got very hot towards the end and was diving in every stream we came across. I’d stop and give her time to fully immerse herself. Thinking about it, maybe I could have gone sub 11 hours! I’m only joking. Too have her with me the whole way was better than pushing for any time.